The Wooden Yoke Revelation
I stood next to the horses with Sipporah at my side and addressed the Chiefs once again. “Has the God of Israel not promised to defend Israel?” I began.
“Yes,” the Chief of Dan responded, “as long as we are in obedience to His laws.”
“Obedience is important,” I answered, “as long as it is an expression of faith in Yahweh. If men obey Him in their actions while disagreeing with Him in their hearts, then their compliance has little value, for then they will seek ways to reinterpret the written law in ways that violate the spirit of the law.”
I continued, “Since you have already experienced five captivities, is it not plain that Israel was disobedient in at least five generations in the past 250 years?”
They nodded in agreement, so I asked. “So what else do we need to know? What is the long-term solution to the weakness in the hearts of the Israelites?”
“The Canaanites are the problem,” said the Chief of Dan. “We must obey the command of Moses and drive the Canaanites out of the land. This is the only way to avoid the temptation of intermarriage and the idolatry that comes of it.”
“What about your own tribe?” I asked the Danite. “Are you not a divided tribe? What is the condition of those who conquered Laish? Are they not idolaters?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” he admitted, “and our tribe is indeed divided.”
“Did these Danites not drive out the idolaters from Laish?” I replied, “Did this military victory prevent the people of Dan from engaging in idolatry? Are they not part of the reason why God has empowered the Philistines today? If Israel was to defeat the Philistines in battle and even occupy their land, would the Israelites then serve Yahweh alone? Would they not adopt Dagon of Ashdod and Beelzebub of Ekron? Would not God yet have to raise up adversaries to put Israel under tribute?”
He was silent.
“Are you not the chief of Dan?” I asked. “Will your people not put away their idols if you command them to do so?”
“There are too many of them,” he replied, “and too many hearts in the north are already full of idolatry. If I tried to force them to comply with Yahweh’s law, they would revolt and depart from Israel.”
“That is, perhaps, the problem in many of the tribes,” I said, looking around at the chiefs. “Israel has again reached the same level of corruption that preceded the earlier captivities. It is now too late to avoid captivity, for my wife and I have heard the decree of heaven against Israel. God has decreed that Israel will be subjected to the Philistines. You cannot reverse this captivity, but your decisions here will determine whether your captivity will be heavy or light.”
“What do you mean?” Eli asked.
“As you know, Your Excellency, God told Israel through Moses that He will put your people into captivity if they are disobedient, and if they persist in their lawless ways, conditions will become seven times worse.”
“That is correct,” Eli affirmed.
“Then it is clear that if you hear the word of Yahweh and comply with His word, then life in captivity will be better,” I said. “It will not be ideal, for you will pay tribute, but when the divine sentence is complete, your children will be free.”
I continued, “You wear the ephod. In it you carry the Urim and Thummim given to Aaron. 52 Will you not inquire of Yahweh to determine His will in this matter?”
“Yes, of course,” he replied, “if the chiefs want me to do this.” They all indicated their agreement with this. “Then give me some time to prepare, for I must change into the proper garments and be cleansed with water.”
Eli left the circle and walked to his tent, instructing servants to fetch water for purification rites. It was not a simple task in those days to consult the Urim and Thummim, because in order to receive true answers, the High Priest needed to cleanse his heart and come to a neutral mindset that was free of manipulation and personal desire.
All revelation is perceived through the altar of one’s heart, and only an altar built without stones cut by human hands is pure enough to receive untainted answers from God. It is necessary to inquire with ears to hear and without preconceived opinions in one’s heart.
While waiting for Eli to ready himself, I decided to talk with a nearby servant who waited in attendance, ready to serve when asked. “What is your name?” I asked.
“I am Ebed,” he said. “I am a Gibeonite that serves the house of Yahweh in Shiloh.”
“Bless you,” I replied. “How did you come to be a servant in the sanctuary of Yahweh?”
“My fathers made a covenant with Joshua, and we are under his protection,” he replied. “I and my family are privileged to know the God of Israel and to be under His covenant. Though we are servants, God has been merciful to us for many generations.”
“Your fathers came under the curse of Noah, 53 when he laid a curse upon Canaan more than a thousand years ago,” I informed him. “That curse said that Canaan would serve the God of Shem. Though many Canaanites have died, and others have fled this land, you and your family have lived to fulfill that curse. But as you can see, that curse turned out to be a blessing, for by it your fathers were turned from their idolatry, and you have come to know the God of Israel.”
“Yes,” Ebed said humbly, “and in our own way we have become priests of God by serving with the sons of Aaron.”
“The day will come,” I told him solemnly, “that God will bring about a change of priesthood, and His priests will no longer be required to be descended from Aaron and the tribe of Levi. In that day Yahweh will no longer call you servants, but He will call you His friends. Your descendants will see that day, though a king will arise who will persecute you unjustly, violating your covenant with Joshua. But if you remain steadfast in your faith in Yahweh, He will bless you.”
Ebed contemplated my words with great interest. “I will tell my family what you have said, and we will pray for His double witness.”
“I can ask no more than that,” I told him. “Always remember that Shem was the builder of Jerusalem, where he ruled as Melchizedek, or as Adonizedek, as he is often called today. 54 He was a priest of El Elyon, and you serve the God of Melchizedek. As his servants, you are of that ancient priestly order. Chew your cud on this word, and I am confident that God will make it a revelation that you may assimilate. This food will help you to grow in faith.”
The chiefs waited until the High Priest returned, dressed officially in the eight garments required of him, having also the Breastplate of Judgment—that is, the ephod—on his chest. The Urim and Thummim, I knew, were two stones, identically shaped, one white and the other red, hidden in a cloth pouch behind the twelve stones of the ephod. Urim means “lights,” signifying sins coming to the white light by its revelation. Thummim means “perfections,” signifying innocence or forgiveness by the red blood of sacrifice.
Depending on the nature of the question, the stones might be interpreted differently, for in simple questions requiring yes-or-no answers, the white stone of the Urim signified YES, while the red stone of the Thummim signified NO. Whichever stone the High Priest pulled from the pouch spoke the answer from God.
Eli finally returned and walked to the center of the stone circle. Turning northeast toward the tabernacle in Shiloh, he began to pray, as we and all of the chiefs bowed our faces to the ground: “Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear our prayer. Forgive the iniquity of our hearts and let it be covered by the blood of sacrifice. We have come to inquire that we may know Your will in regard to the Philistines. Have you indeed passed sentence upon Israel, that we should go into another captivity?”
With that, he thrust his hand into the pocket behind the ephod that he wore and removed the white stone, signifying YES. It also signified the sins of Israel coming to light by the word of the stone. A few low groans could be heard among the chiefs.
Eli continued, “Shall Israel fight against the Philistines?” Again, he thrust his hand into the pocket and this time pulled out a red stone, signifying NO.
“Shall Israel pay tribute as demanded by the Philistines?” The white stone again appeared in Eli’s hand, signifying YES.
“Is it yet possible, by repentance, to avoid this judgment?” The red stone was drawn from the ephod, signifying NO.
“If we repent, will this captivity be lightened?” The white stone said YES.
“Is there a single tribe that is most responsible for this captivity?” The red stone again appeared in Eli’s hand, saying, NO. However, I understood that there were actually two tribes most responsible for the captivity—Dan and Levi. Both were involved in the original idolatry of Jonathan, the Levite, in the city of Dan. But this remained hidden from the majority of the chiefs, since Eli did not pursue the question more specifically. 55
“When shall this captivity begin? Will it begin this year?” The red stone said NO.
“Will it begin next year?” The white stone said YES.
“How long will the captivity continue? More than ten years?” The white stone said YES. “More than twenty years?” YES. “More than thirty years?” YES. “More than forty years?” NO. “Less than forty years?” NO. “Precisely forty years?” YES.
The chiefs remained silent, and a fog of depression seemed to settle over them, as the stark truth left them numb. Forty years! They had never endured such a long captivity. They knew that most of them would not live to see Israel’s deliverance. Until that moment, the consequences of violating the law of God had seemed too distant to be real. The small introduction of idolatry here and there had seemed trivial at first, and its encroachment was too gradual to sound the alarms in Shiloh. And now it was too late to stop it.
With his head bowed, Eli silently and dejectedly turned and walked back to his tent to change his clothes. He had heard from God, but he knew now that his priestly duties would be to minister to Israel in the coming captivity. He could not know if he would live through the entire forty years or not, because he was already 58 years of age.
When he was gone, I again stood up to try to find some words of encouragement. “The law of Yahweh,” I began, “warned of captivity whenever Israel refused to fulfill their vow at Mount Horeb. You may be tempted to blame the Philistines for their greed in demanding tribute from you—and, indeed, they are guilty of such greed and lust for power. But it is Yahweh who has empowered them, so any appeals must be made to Him, and He will deal with the Philistines.”
“But if you can agree with Yahweh’s judgments and repent from your idolatry, He will grant you peace, and your children will live to enjoy freedom. The Philistines will not interfere with the priests in Shiloh, and they will also allow you to maintain the leadership of judges in your midst. Ibzan will be allowed to live, and when he is gone, another will take his place.” 56
“If you will submit to the Philistines and do as they ask,” I said, “then they will permit judges to preside over the people and to decide disputes. But as for the judge who will come from the tribe of Dan, he will be only as good as the hearts of the people. I know that he will not be able to deliver you from the power of the Philistines, but yet he will bring judgment upon them in many ways.”
I continued, “The law of Moses spoke of a yoke of iron that He would place upon you if you persisted in disobedience. 57 Moses described that iron yoke in terms of being exiled from this land. You have had many captivities, but in none of them were you exiled from here. If you will remain humble and serve the Philistines, recognizing them as Yahweh’s agent of justice, your yoke will be made of wood and not of iron. 58 Your yoke will be lighter.”
The Danite spoke up again. “It does not seem right that we should pay tribute without fighting for our freedom. My heart is conflicted within me.”
“That is because you represent two branches of the same tribe,” I answered. “There is a righteous branch and an idolatrous branch of the tribe of Dan—moreso than in any other tribe. You represent the tribe, and so your heart is divided. But this can also be a good thing, for you are in a position of an intercessor. It is in your power to overcome the negative side of your heart, the side that wants to rebel against Yahweh’s judgment and to fight the Philistines. If you overcome this, you will do so on behalf of the idolatrous half of the tribe of Dan.”
“I do not know if I am able to do that,” he said, looking forlorn.
“Then let me give you encouragement,” I said. “A future judge of Israel will be born from the tribe of Dan at the time of wheat harvest next year. He will be a man of great physical strength, because that is where Israel’s faith lies. God will give you the fleshly desire of your hearts. Yet he will also be a man of great faith, because some of you here have great faith. This judge that God will give you will have the character that you as a Council desires, for God knows the prayers of each heart.”
I continued, “Soon afterward, during Sukkoth, another child will be born, a prophet from Levi who will become the judge after the judge from Dan is dead. This prophet child will be entrusted to the High Priest. He will teach him the laws of God and train him in the word. God Himself will speak to the child, and when he is older, he will also crown Israel’s king.”
“What sort of judge will this man be? How will we recognize him?” Ibzan asked.
“You will not see him,” I replied, “though many of you here will see the child when you attend your feasts in Shiloh. But when he grows to maturity, he will be known as a judge in Israel. Israel in that day cannot fail to recognize him, for God will intervene to fulfill His promise of deliverance to Israel. He will not reflect the iniquitous hearts of the people, but will reflect the heart of God alone.”
At that point, we took a break so that the tribal chiefs could discuss these things among themselves and digest what they had heard.
- Leviticus 8:8
- Genesis 9:25-27
- As in Joshua 10:1
- It is important to ask the right question without assumptions.
- Elon. Judges 12:11
- Deuteronomy 28:48
- Revealed more fully by the prophet in Jeremiah 28:13